Hire Smart: How to Tell a Startup Superstar From a Weak Link

Hire Smart: How to Tell a Startup Superstar From a Weak Link
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Co-founder and CEO of Catalant
4 min read
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Building your startup dream team is a unique task. Every employee plays a huge role in the early days of a new business, so it’s incredibly important to hire the right people. 

Your startup superstars need to be risk takers. The startup game can be unpredictable, so you want to have proactive, gutsy people in your corner. They also need to be flexible leaders who can take charge, stand up for their ideas and wear many different hats. Their tastes and intuitions need to align with your own. This way, you can trust their gut decisions until your startup can afford to invest in data collection. They need to be resilient and optimistic. If ambiguity scares them, move on.

I know -- that’s a lot of criteria. And you probably don’t have much time or capital to devote to this task. But even with limited resources, it’s still possible to rival big corporations in terms of talent. You just need to ask your candidates the right questions.

Related: 8 Clumsy Mistakes to Avoid During the Hiring Process

1. What are your long-term plans?

Ask your potential recruits to reveal their life plans and their pie-in-the-sky dreams. If a candidate has ambitious long-term plans and seems excited about achieving them, he or she’s more likely to work hard for you.

According to recent research, career development is the key to retaining talent. In fact, 56 percent of employers say they struggle to retain high-potential employees. It’s hard to compete with the best unless you can keep the best, so understanding your candidates’ long-term goals is crucial.

2. How do you feel about failure?

Startup life is full of failure. A strong candidate will say he loves to take risks. Employees who don’t have a strong track record of succeeding after failure won’t be effective in the roller coaster startup world.

Seek out candidates who have molded their failures into successes. Ask them about times they’ve experienced failure and how they handled it. Their answers will suggest how they handle personal or professional failure.

3. How do you handle adversity?

Ask an open-ended question about a challenge your hire might face. Catching him off guard will show you how well he thinks on his feet. This is a great way to establish how he’ll react to unpredictable changes.

This ability will highlight his ingenuity, and it could even shed light on a weak spot in your company. For example, one of our early employees was a summer intern who identified the need for a client strategy group to help respond to customer needs. We gave him free rein over the group, and he’s now a vice president.

Additionally, when we hire new business development associates, we make sure they meet our entire team before we bang the gavel. A culture fit is just as important as an intellectual fit. The environment at a young startup can be stressful, and nothing is more toxic than an employee who’s selfish, not a team player or lacking basic social skills.

Related: Hire Right or Die Trying: The Business Advice I'd Give My Younger Self

Asking these questions will undoubtedly lead to great hires. But before that can happen, you have to look in the right places to amass your candidate pool. Use referrals from existing employees. No one can advocate more credibly for your company than they can. In fact, at my company, we’ve discovered some of our best employees through our existing employees’ networks.

Outside of your company, LinkedIn and innovative recruiting platforms, such as Poachable and LifeGuides, are full of job seekers who are eager to help your business take off.

Make sure you’re selling the heart and soul of your company in your job posting. Write an appealing title, use keywords and include some open-ended bits that will force the candidate to show you his true self.

When you’re hiring for your startup, you have to be picky. You aren’t looking for a typical Joe Shmo -- rather, you want to hire incredibly ambitious self-starters. Your startup dream team is waiting for you. All you have to do is discover it. 

Related: 4 Tips on How to Bring Out the Best in Your New Hires

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